Five Ways Healthcare Reform Could Increase Your Malpractice Risks

January 8, 2014

As healthcare reform initiatives pick up, malpractice risks may increase for many physicians.

As healthcare reform initiatives pick up in 2014, the risk of a malpractice lawsuit may increase for many physicians. Here’s why:

1. More patients. As more patients gain insurance and patient demand increases, your practice may become busier. "In some regards it’s going to be better but currently with the volume of patients that we anticipate will hit primary-care physician practices they don’t have the time or staff to manage the volume of patients that are coming their way," Laura Martinez, vice president of risk management at medical malpractice insurer MagMutual recently told Physicians Practice. "My concern is that it's going to create some potential crises for them."

2. New patients. Patients who like their doctors are less likely to sue them, so a strong relationship with patients is critical. As your practice begins accepting new patients (some of whom may have been forced to select you as their new physician after being dropped from their previous insurance plans) it must focus on building strong relationships. "Physicians are going to be starting from square one with people, the patient may even be going to a physician he or she did not want to go to but was forced to go to," Mike Atchison, an attorney at Burr & Forman LLP based in Birmingham, Ala., recently told Physicians Practice. "That's always a bad situation."

3. Payment problems. Many of the health insurance plans offered through health insurance exchanges include high deductibles, meaning patients are going to be shouldering more of their healthcare costs, Susan Shepard, a nurse and director of patient safety education at medical malpractice insurer The Doctors Company recently told Physicians Practice. As your practice steps up its patient payment collection efforts, patient relations could become strained. That, of course, could increase the likelihood that a patient will file a malpractice lawsuit.

4. Nonphysician providers. As more patients gain insurance and as the physician shortage increases, more practices are likely to hire nonphysician providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, Jeff Brunken, president of physician insurer MGIS recently told Physicians Practice. Make sure your practice is complying with scope of practice regulations and supervising these individuals appropriately.

5. New partners. Many health reform initiatives, such as accountable care organizations, require physicians to form new partnerships with other healthcare systems and physicians. This could raise communication and care handoff problems - at least at the outset. "Usually all the discussion and the focus before they get [involved in these initiatives] is all about the business side of it, and how do the numbers work and so forth," said Brunken. "We always remind our clients to make sure that they understand how the communication side of it works."

What are some other malpractice risks that reform could raise?